Behind the scenes, Broadway is a mysterious place filled with superstitions and steeped in tradition. Mentioning the name "Macbeth" within the four walls of a theater is believed to bring bad luck, and opening night is always graced with a red carpet leading into the theater. When the curtains rise on the show, superstitions take a back seat to the job at hand -- entertaining the audience.
The passing of the gypsy robe is a time-honored tradition on Broadway. It all started in 1959, when Bill Bradley, a cast member of the show "Gypsy," sent one of the gypsy costume robes to a friend for good luck. The friend passed the robe on to a chorus member, who passed the robe along to another chorus member in turn. Over time, the passing of the robe was adopted by all Broadway shows, and became a more formal opening night affair. The entire cast and crew gather in a circle on the stage one hour before the curtain rises on opening night. A chorus member, secretly chosen beforehand, stands in the middle of the circle and hands the robe to a special cast member, usually the one who has acted in the most Broadway plays. The new "gypsy" puts on the robe and walks around the outside of the circle three times counter-clockwise, while the rest of the cast and crew touch the robe for good luck.
The gypsy robe ritual is not complete without personal visits from the new gypsy to the other cast members. Once presented with the robe, the reigning gypsy makes a personal visit to each cast member in their dressing room. As part of the tradition, each dressing room holds flowers, candy and toys in celebration. As the gypsy makes his visit, the cast members sign the robe as a keepsake.
It only takes one person to start a revered tradition. Each opening night on Broadway, Gloria Rosenthal makes the roughly 22-mile journey from Valley Stream, New York to Broadway to meet the new show's cast. After schmoozing with the cast members, she does something that no other theater-goer does -- she leaves before the curtain rises. Although she never watches the shows, Mrs. Rosenthal is an integral part of opening night on Broadway.
Opening Night Parties
Although they have changed over time, opening night parties are still a time-honored tradition on Broadway. Once an assurance of national press coverage, opening night parties were historically lavish affairs. In 1983, Allen Carr spent $150,000 to throw the opening night party for "Le Cages Aux Folles" at the Pan Am building. Today, the parties are less about publicity and more about keeping up tradition and celebrating a successful opening night, and the amount producers spend has diminished. Today's opening night parties are simpler affairs, usually featuring a handful of bloggers and reporters and a light spread of finger foods.
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